Friday, October 12, 2007

Sumangali Prarthana

The Poonool lunch was also a grand affair; only we were so overstuffed with good things, we just couldn’t do justice to the lunch. Post lunch, most of the invitees outside the immediate family circle left. The rest of us were in a relaxed mood and spent some time catching up with the others.

We couldn’t fully relax yet as there was another function, Sumangali Prarthana, slated for the next day. This is a ritual seeking the blessings of women of the family who are no more; something akin to the nandi sradham, only there are no vedic rituals or mantras in this ritual. It is purely a ladies’ function. In most families this function is performed during important events like marriage, upanayanam etc, while in some families it is performed every year. It is believed that performing this puja will satisfy the unfulfilled yearnings of all the girls and ladies who have passed away at young age and they would in turn bless the family. It is common practice to conduct the Sumangali Prarthana before the marriage if the daughter is getting married and after the new daughter-in-law comes home if the son is getting married. This function is not performed on Tuesdays or Saturdays.

Usually, 7 ladies and 2 young girls (preferably below the age of 10) are invited to participate in the function, partake the feast and receive thamboolam. There is no objection for near relatives of the hostess to participate. Now a days many people do with 7 (6+1) or (5+2) ladies as it has become difficult to get together the 9 ladies to sit for the function. Usually only sumangalis are only invited for the purpose though I have heard that there are exceptions to this rule. Different families follow different customs. The ladies who sit for the puja represent all the women of the family who are no more alive. Since there is no explicit avahanam through manthrams of any pithrus, ladies generally accept the invitation. This function is very akin to the nandisradham performed prior to the upanayanam in many respects. While nandisradham is presided over and conducted by the purohitha of the family and the kartha is a gent; this function is presided over by the elderly lady members of the family. Usually the kartha is a sumangali from the family. The gifts to the ladies vary among families and also depend on the financial status of the kartha, very similar to the nandi sradham. The menu for the feast is also very similar. Though no vedic rituals are performed, Sumangali Prarthana is considered to be a very important and sacred function and all the preparations are done with a great deal of Shradha and Bhakthi. This is one function where the gents of the family are excluded from the rituals. They are asked to enter the hall only after initial puja is offered to do namaskarams and seek the blessings. Otherwise, they can stick around to offer any help around or in the kitchen and then await call for lunch, when the ladies have been fed and seen off.

The consent and convenience of all the prospective participants would have been obtained in advance and there would always be a few standbys for any unexpected dropouts. In the olden days, the preparations for the function had to start the previous evening. Armed with a bucket of oil and packets of turmeric powder, kumkum, flowers, betel leaves and nuts, and shikakai powder, we would go to all the invitees’ houses and invite them giving a measure of oil and the other things we carried. The items were for the lady’s bath and adornment the next day. I am not sure if the custom is being followed anywhere today. Perhaps, these days one would have to carry, shampoo sachets, moisturizing cream, lipstick and the like. We did not have that invitation round this time at our home as most of the participants were from the family and immediate family.

All the participants are supposed to take an oil bath in the morning and come dressed in 9 yards saree only. There is no match to the beauty of the ladies all dressed in nine yards sarees and with no make up other than turmeric powder in their face and flowers in their hair, fresh from an oilbath.

In memory of those souls who are no more with us, a new 9 yards saree and pavadai as offering (these two would be used by some members of the family after the puja) are kept in wooden trays, along with oil, betel leaves, flowers, turmeric, kumkum and neem leaves early in the morning and the blessings are sought. This has to be done by a member of the family before taking bath! In all our rituals, I have not some across another ritual which is done before taking bath. As I was staying at a neighboring house (not enough space for all invitees at home), my mother sent word for me at 5.30am. I sent back the messenger as I was yet to bathe. My mother sent the messenger back saying, “I want her to come here before taking bath”. It has been a long time since I myself conducted this ritual. When my astute and blessed mother-in-law was alive, she used to take care of these little things and I used to be busy in the kitchen.

My mother made me offer the saree and pavadai with oil and other items to the elders (who are in heaven) and asked me to pray for their blessings for the family. This done, the saree had to be washed and dried before the actual function.
In some families new dresses for all the girls and ladies of the family are bought and kept at the puja and later on used by the family members. Anyway, not all the dresses are washed prior to the function.

Though the cooking for this function is usually done by the women in the family, the hired cook prepared the feast as all of us were quite tired after the poonool. An elaborate lunch (again samaradhanai vattam) was prepared including

Parikkai pitla,
Vazhakkai kari
Chakka kari,
Pudalangai thoran,
Payar thoran,

The menu also included three types of fruits, mango, jackfruit and banana. Vadai and Neiyappam were also prepared. It is a practice at home to make polis which was discontinued this time as no one was in a mood to have more sweets.

When all the invited ladies arrive, they are received with kumkum, haldi, flowers and pachai (rouge!). This pachai is a paste made of kumkum and water and is applied on both sides of the cheek outside the earlobes.

They are then taken to the function hall where a place has been marked for each one with two places for the deceased seniors at the head of the hall. The saree and pavadai meant for the deceased seniors are kept in the palakai along with some gold chain and flowers and betel leaves, neemleaves, turmeric and kumkum. Banana leaves are laid out for serving food at the place where the saree and pavadai are kept (this place is called pudavai kalam – meaning where pudavai or saree is kept) meant for the departed souls and also for all the invited participants, after having invoked the departed seniors. After all the items are served on the leaves, puja is done offering flowers, turmeric powder, kumkum betel leaves, neem leaves and water to the departed souls and all the invitees, by the eldest lady of the family .The other members of the family including male members offer puja and namaskarms at the pudavai kalam site only. Doopam and Deepam are offered at the place where elders are invoked, i.e., at the pudavai kalam and also to all the participating ladies by the eldest lady of the family.

This is one of the functions where ladies are served first. After lunch, the ladies are given a special mixture called Chukkumanam (mixture of dried ginger and jaggery) as a digestive aid after the heavy meal. They are also given paanakam to drink. They are offered thamboolam, dakshina and mehendi. These days, people give more expensive gifts like sarees, bangles, and the like to the invited ladies. After the invited ladies are seen off, the other members of the family have their lunch. The food served at pudavai kalam ( the two places earmarked for the departed ) is partaken of by two ladies of the family.

After lunch the saree and pavadai are given to some family members who have to wear them and replace them at the same place. In the night a pot of water is also kept near the pudavai kalam to quench the thirst of the heavenly visitors.
In the olden days (during the time of my grandmother), the saree kept at the pudavai kalam was kept inside a trunk after the function and worn only after the next Sumangali Prarthana. The saree inside the box, kept after the previous Sumangali Prarthana was taken out on this occasion and worn by a member of the family. It so happened that sometimes the interval between two Sumangali Prarthanas was too long and by the time the saree was taken out it would have started wearing out. Hence after my grandmother passed away, the elders in the family decided to discontinue this practice of keeping the saree inside a box.

Thus ended the grand finale to our big get together. All the guests started taking leave one by one from that evening with loads and loads of happy memories of the past few days.


vimmi said...

I love reading your posts. I am from punjab and do not know much about your customs, but you describe them so well, that I feel as if I am attending them. Love the recipes too. Will try them soon.


Mouly said...

Hi Aunty, Your blog posts are amazing source of details. It has all ingredients in it. From outstanding Kerala dishes to specific customs of Kerala Iyers, Wow!!..its too brings back memories of olden days..

One suggestion - Can you add a Google custom search to the blog so that people can search for a specific recipe? I found it difficult to search if you are looking for a specific recipe.
More info can be found here -

Ammupatti said...

Hi mouly

We will do it.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

I always look forward to reading your blog. Main reason is I always learn some thing new every time. You are an excellent teacher.Keep posting.


Ammupatti said...

Hi Ramya

Thanks . All the best

Anonymous said...

Ammupatti, I enjoy reading your blog very much. I belong to the Mudaliar community and on the day of Diwali, we offer prayers to god with new clothes, Gingelly oil, Shikakai, Idlis, vadais, diwali sweets and Murukkus before taking bath. Then the oldest male member in the family will then take the blessed oil and apply it on everyones head as a symbolic gesture. We then take oil bath and then pour a little bit of ganga water brought from Kasi on our heads. After bath, we go back to the pooja room where my mother or grandmother will hand over the new clothes after we prostrate before god. So this the only festival where we do pooja before taking a bath!

ViswanathanRaju said...

very powerful writing! nostalgic visions of 'poovaada panai' safe inside the 'arai' (araikkulle), strong room, and considered as a very sacred treasure by all of us at home, spring up, as i read the blog on 'sumangalya prarthanai' (or, sumangali prarthanai -- or again, 'pendugalkidal' in slang, sometimes also known as 'mangilipondugal'!), so nicely presented above. truly a tribute to all great mothers of all times! - with namaskarams, 'pattavathu' raju.

Ammupatti said...

Hi Pattavathu Raju

Thank you for your encouraging comments.

When I saw the name Viswanatha Raju, for a moment I thought you could be the Viswantha Raju who was my brother's class mate in school. Then he was not known as Pattavathu Raju.

Best wishes

Kannan said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I have a question to ask. I have been conducting Sumangali Pooja in India for past 2 years on Durgashtami day and it is done by my friend's mother on my behalf. I am not married. Can I still do it? Amma who is doing this pooja for me is a Brahmin.

chandrika jaisimha said...

hi.. this was very informative.. i'm from kannada brahmin . i'l be marrying an iyer brahmin.. very curious to know more about iyer customes

Seetha Lakshmi R. Srinivasan said...

THANKS AMMA! Your blog is a one stop shop for me! :-)

Megna Gopu said...


We belong to Thirunelveli and my mother in law is no more.After her passing we have not done Sumangali prarthanai and want to do it after her shradam.Do we have to see naal nakshathram to do it the next day of Shradam? Also do you have a menu for Thirunelveli style Sumangali prarthanai ?

Thank you so much

Prashanti said...

Excellent post. Thank you!
Megna, to do the prarthanai the very next day after shrardham, we do not have to see naal or nakshatram. Any other time we plan to do, or when we do for auspicious occasions like poonal or kalyaanam, we have to see both.

Chitra Prakash said...

Wonderful writeup..we have a similar custom in our family of keeping the saree in a trunk..

sayee said...

Please clear my doubt. Myself and elder brother living separate.myself (younger) wants to do sumangali prarthanai ie following day of Amma srartham on vijayadasami day (thasami thithi). We are doing srartham separely. My sister also coming. Shall I (younger) perform Sumangali prarthanai in my home wih elder brother. Please clear my doubt.

rupa girish said...

Dear Ammu Patti,

Firstly a big thank you for your write up. We had our son's thread ceremony over the weekend in Kalady, Kerala. I came across your blog few months back . I read ur blogs on sumangali prarthanai, naandi and Poonal. It not only helped me to better understand the rituals and the customs but also the reasoning was clear. I also ensured my husband and son read through the steps before the function.

Your blog is now my favourite one to refer , keep up your work of guiding youngsters and more importantly tabulating info which would help many more like me in the long run.

Unknown said...

Is their any alternative pooja for sumangali pooja